Advent resources . . . .

a roundup for Advent/Christmas

Over at RevGalBlogPals, the Matriarchs have rounded-up some favorite resources and tips appropriate to the Advent/Christmas season. I weighed in with a few of my own.

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Wishing You Perfect Lighting this Christmas

Can Real Life Be As Gorgeous As Screen Life?

Rembrandt etching nativity

Adoration of the Shepherd: with the lamp, by Rembrandt

I wrote this post a few years ago, but offer it again. Merry Christmas!

One of the reasons we like movies and series is that the screen version of life appears to be more — more beautiful, more perfect, more meaningful — than actual life. I’m thinking of shows like Mad Men or The Good Wife or Parenthood or Masters of Sex, shows where characters effortlessly wear beautiful clothing, even when long days stretch into late nights, where women are never seen without full makeup, and where the sets, whether homes, offices, restaurants, or courtrooms, are more beautiful than those actual places would be. Each color palette is carefully conceived, the lighting angles are flattering, and the tilt of the camera and its length of focus brings out the emotion in an actor’s expression.

We know that in real life those characters — at least if they were us — would be slipping off their high heels, falling asleep from that much drinking, or looking in vain for a bench at the Hall of Justice because they just really needed to sit down. But there’s something else that’s different between the screen world and the actual world. Perhaps all of the cinematic components don’t merely create a false reality. Perhaps they help us see the reality that we are often blind to because we are distracted by trivia.

We share many store lines with the characters we watch. We have a career that rises and falls — but not as captivatingly as that of the dapper Don Draper. We have relationships that are stretched and strained and patched back together — but not as poetically and decisively as the marriages on Parenthood. We chase after certain goals, but perhaps don’t look as elegant as do the characters on The Good Wife or Masters of Sex.

Call it “heightened reality” — these captivating stories, poetic relationships, and elegant polish. (more…)

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For Unto Us a Child is Born

a view from the pew

We sat in the cosy balcony of the historic church, surrounded by children with their parents. In front of us a brother and sister got on their knees and used the balcony’s ledge to fill out their children’s bulletins. Beside me a boy of about 12 never stopped reading a thick book, except to lift his head when the choir sang a resounding “Alleluia” and the strings of the chamber orchestra struck heavenly chords. And squarely in my line of vision sat a young teenage girl with her dad, the girl’s head tilted onto his shoulder, and his head tilted onto hers, so the two heads formed a diamond.

For unto us a child is born. A son is given.

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Worlds vs. Words: Which Lasts Longer?

Lectionary Study on Mark 13

Is the world coming to an end, and how do we feel about that? This weekend I saw a dystopian/utopian movie, listened to end-times texts read in church, and worked out to Radioactive at Golds Gym. (be careful about clicking that link, it’s an ear worm) Welcome to the New Age! This is it, the Apocalypse!

With the impending demise of the world hanging over my head, I began to wonder which lasts longer: worlds or words? Words would seem to be the most ephemeral of all things! Yet I submit three items for your consideration:

1) Interstellar is a 3-hour spectacle that reaches deep into time and space. Interestingly enough, it avoids any mention of a belief system, or anything to believe in, other than human achievement. Instead, the movie tickles the edges of theoretical physics and pays homage to Love (Love is the one thing we can perceive that transcends space and time, says Anne Hathaway’s character).

2) The text this first Sunday of Advent was from Mark 13, which includes these words of Jesus: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. The text also suggests that at the end of all things our galaxy will disappear (the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light).

3) And from left field, because who knows when and how John Calvin will pop up. . . Have you seen the video of the crow sledding down a snowy roof? It is delightful, so I read about crows on Wikipedia, where I learned that crows are playful and intelligent. Which made me wonder about the origin of the expression “eating crow.” Which led me to this: Eating crow is of a family of idioms having to do with eating and being proven incorrect, such as to “eat dirt” and to “eat your hat” (or shoe), all probably originating from “to eat one’s words”, which first appears in print in 1571 in one of John Calvin’s tracts, on Psalm 62: “God eateth not his words when he hath once spoken.”

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Merry Christmas Eve!

Eugene Peterson’s poem, Cradle.

Thanks to Eerdmans Publishing.

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Sing, All You Citizens!

Worshipping with Christians in Bethlehem, Israel via Simulcast

Bethlehem Prayer Service at National Cathedral 2013

Prayer Service at National Cathedral, simulcast with Bethlehem, Palestine

One reason music is so powerful is context.

We hear an “oldie” on the radio and remember the sweetheart we danced with “back then” and feel a pang of nostalgia.

We hear the theme music announcing a favorite TV show and the pleasures of watching that show come flooding back.

Music we enjoy with one crowd might be excruciating if, for instance, our parents happen to be in the room.

Music we enjoy at a concert may have us banging on the elevator doors when we’re caught in a Muzak version. Context matters.

One reason that sacred music moves us, is that we remember all the times and places we have sung that same song before. The meanings form new layers over time. Who were we with and what did that worship experience mean to us, and to the others we worshipped beside?


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A Bethlehem Prayer Service

Simulcast Worship with Bethlehem, Israel

Do you have plans for next Saturday morning? I hope to worship in Bethlehem, Palestine — by satellite link from the National Cathedral in Washington DC. (10:00 AM from the nave). Here’s an invitation from the National Cathedral’s website:

Join worshipers in the nave for the seventh annual joint simulcast Christmas service with the people of Bethlehem. Prayers, readings, and hymns alternate between Washington, D.C., and Palestine via the Internet, bringing together people of different lands, languages, and ethnic backgrounds in celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace.

Here’s the background about how this service came to be: (more…)

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White House Christmas Card 2013

Pictures of the Official White House Christmas Card

Look what “popped up” in the mail last Friday:


White House Christmas Card 2013 front


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Advent Haiku

Advent has a sober mood

A day like a shroud

of gray cloud, no sun allowed

Advent finds us bowed.


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Why I’m Ready for Christmas

How I Shifted My Perspective as a Pastor

I used to have mixed feelings about Christmas. There were parts I enjoyed, but also parts that stressed me out. As a person of faith, I wanted to focus on Jesus, but as a mother/consumer/normal person who lives in this century, that always felt difficult. The result was a scramble, overlaid with guilt. All those sermons, bulletins, cookies, gifts, cards . . . ! By the time Christmas came I couldn’t wait till it was over.

A few years ago I began to question my approach. I decided that the distinction between sacred/cultural was at the heart of my problem and perhaps it was unnecessary. Why couldn’t I just do both without feeling like there was some magical standard I needed to live up to? Why couldn’t I celebrate the sacred holiday, and enjoy the cultural festivities both at my own pace? After that epiphany (if you will) I really took charge of the holiday and tried to be intentional about what I did and didn’t do. Mainly I needed to lose the overlay of guilt.


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